Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Obama Officials Ready for Sanctions Bill

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The Jerusalem Post

Obama administration officials at a Senate hearing Tuesday refrained from backing proposed Iran sanctions legislation or giving a deadline for Teheran to halt uranium enrichment during its negotiations with the US and other world powers. Yet US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said that "we would be prepared to move ahead swiftly and effectively with additional [sanctions] measures" if the talks, which he stressed were not open-ended, failed to bear fruit. He expressed skepticism over Iran's intentions, saying the administration was "realistic" about the prospects of engagement; he later said that Iran's initial gestures are "the first concrete evidence we've had during this administration of serious negotiations." When pressed by Democrat Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, though, on how long Iran has to halt its uranium enrichment - a demand of the international community which Iran has yet to adhere to - Steinberg said instead that stopping uranium enrichment is "the requirement of the UN Security Council and it's the priority in our negotiations."

Menendez responded, "You don't want Congress to pursue the legislations, but at the same time you don't give us a time frame - that makes many of us uneasy." When asked pointedly by other lawmakers whether the administration supported the sanctions legislation that Congress is considering, Steinberg did not give a clear response. And when asked his thoughts on a central tenet of the legislation - blocking refined petroleum imports to Iran - he said, "We still have not reached a firm judgment on whether that would be the best way to go, in part because we need a better understanding of what the efficacy would be; in part because it would depend on the degree to which others participated in this." Both Steinberg and his co-witness, Stuart Levey, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, stressed the importance of multilateral sanctions and implied that unilateral US moves, such as those before Congress, could hurt efforts to bring more countries on board. In fact, they assessed that more countries are now willing to consider stricter sanctions because of the outreach that the US has until now conducted, citing this as an achievement even if Iran was not moved by such diplomacy. (Read more...)